note: this post is a work in progress.

Changing Behaviors

We have a lot of routine behaviors that will need to change for the short term. Here are a few things that we won’t be doing in our new version of soccer training:

  • hygiene being just an afterthought
  • putting all bags and waters together
  • team huddles
  • players touching equipment and balls with their hands
  • high fives, hand shakes, and hugs
  • contact and tackling
  • playing small-sided games at training (1v1, 2v2, 3v3, 4v4…)
  • ending training with a scrimmage
  • using shared pinnies (not needed anyway)
  • players helping coach clean up

A phased approach to restarting soccer allows coaches and players to learn these new behaviors slowly, and then gradually build up the group sizes once those new behaviors become second nature.

Phase 1: Small Groups

Purpose: Learn new behaviors in a low risk environment, allow safe socialization, overcome anxiety, test and improve designs for training.

  • 4-5 players
  • Safe distancing
  • No handling
  • Contact tracing

Small Groups allow Cincy SC players to get back to training and socializing with teammates in a relatively low-risk and controlled environment. While any gathering comes with some risk, it can be limited by following best practices for safe distancing and hygiene, and keeping meticulous attendance records (we’re using Sign Up Genius) for contact tracing in the event of suspected exposure.

Coaches and players can sign up for a time slot that fits their schedule, rather than each team being assigned a day and time for training. In a club environment, this works better because participation is optional for players and coaches and not all will want to participate. Shrinking the number of players and increasing the field space means the time also needs to be extended significantly. For Cincy SC that’s two separate facilities, with a Small Group at each, and a new group starting every hour from noon until 8pm, 7 days a week.

Primary activities for this phase are ball mastery, dribbling & 1v1 moves, passing and receiving, ball striking, and fitness (speed, agility, strength).

The example above shows a setup with safe training zones for each player and the coach. Players put their bags and water at their station, not in a common area. Players are reminded at the start of training about hygiene, not touching balls or equipment with their hands, and maintaining a safe distance from other players and the coach at all times. There’s never any contact, and there shouldn’t even be any person coming within 10 feet of another person. Players and coaches get used to the process starting before the player even gets out of their car and doesn’t end until they are back in it.

Phase 2: Medium Groups

Purpose: allow more players to join and gradually get comfortable. Test new processes with more players, including for transitions between groups. 

  • 6-9 players
  • Safe distancing
  • No handling
  • Contact tracing

In general, the rules and primary activities for Phase 2 are the same as for Phase 1.

Players will be given a separate training space. The coach will be on the outside at a safe distance. The group may be split into two groups with the coach continually moving from one to the other.

Coming soon: new activities to use with more players, and possibly some new rules.

Phase 3: Low-Contact Team Training

Purpose: allow a team to practice with increased safety. 

  • Full team
  • Low contact (could start with no contact)
  • Contact tracing

Hygiene requirements, safe distancing (all or most of the time), and contact tracing are continued from prior phases. Contact tracing would change from being club-tracked to coach-tracked. A typical training session, modified to limit contact. Hygiene requirements. No high fives or handshakes. Bags and water spread out. Prohibited activities (scrimmaging, tackling)?

We have painted lines on the field that will help players keep a safe distance. We will start off still in a no contact phase, with similar session plans as what we were doing in earlier phases, but with more players.

It could like this, but two or three areas set up:

Phase 4: Play Soccer!

Purpose: play real soccer again!

  • Regular soccer
  • No handshakes
  • No unnecessary contact
  • Subs 2′ apart (or more)
  • Spectators 6′ apart (or more)

One study shows that players spreading the virus while on the field is practically nil. Players are inside a safe distance for only about 60 seconds per hour of play in a regular match, on average, and most close contact lasts for less than a second. The greater concern should probably be for the activities that happen outside the lines for the players, fans, and coaches.

It will be pretty easy by this point to eliminate handshakes, high fives, hugs, or huddles. Team check in and coin toss (if any) would be from a safe distance for the referee and the players. I would also be pretty easy to ask & remind parents on the sideline to stay spaced 6′ apart. The team bench(es) could have a space between each player, or each player could bring their own chair and space them 6′ apart. Could the game experience be modified to limit contact without changing it significantly? A crazy idea: no throw-ins. All kick-ins would reduce handling and keep better player spacing and is already used in futsal and in training.